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Journey to Belonging: Pathways to Well-Being

"The trance of unworthiness keeps the sweetness of belonging out of reach. The path to ‘the sweetness of belonging,’ is acceptance - acceptance of ourselves and acceptance of others without judgment." ~ Tara Brach

This is how my new book, Journey to Belonging: Pathways to Well-Being begins. It’s significant because I struggled with belonging all my life but didn’t realize it until recently. It wasn’t until I became vulnerable and shared my story with friends and people I met at conferences who expressed an interest in knowing more about how I adapted to life in Kuwait that I realized why telling my story was so important. After all, the culture, religion, and language are different from what I was familiar with when I was growing up in Buffalo, New York.

As I delved deeper into the topic, I realized how important Tara Brach’s words were; we must accept ourselves, our authentic selves, and accept others without judgment. Why? Because we all need to feel a sense of belonging. As I told my story, I realized there were many connections to belongingness theories and the physiology of belonging. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to an indigenous worldview, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Brené Brown’s work, and Polyvagal Theory (Porges, 2004). Belonging is a human need according to Maslow’s theory of human motivation and actually has a basis in our physiological state according to Polyvagal Theory. I interpret Brach’s use of the word acceptance broadly here because it means more than fitting in and that relates directly to Brown’s research. To feel like we truly belong, we must be able to show and share our true selves, not someone we think others will accept. For those of us who feel different, look different, behave differently, or speak differently, acceptance without judgment means everything. When we accept and embrace our true selves, we feel more confident which ensures we will expect to be accepted by others without judgment. It gives us a sense of psychological safety and creates healthier personal and professional relationships.

My journey to discover my sense of belonging didn’t stop at figuring out how I feel at home in two different places. The more parts of my story I shared, the more I realized how important it is for each of us to feel a sense of belonging: from our early years to our end of life. In chapters 3 through 6, I relate my stories to three types of belonging, self-, personal, and professional along with our ultimate life goal to leave a legacy that is a model for others to follow. It wasn’t until I gained self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-worth that I began to experience feelings of personal and professional belonging within my communities.

Ultimately, we must all become good ancestors, leaving a legacy for those who come after us. This is how we make our mark in the world and ensure what we leave is better than we found it. How does this all relate to educators and students? It’s directly connected to our ability to learn and function in the real world. I discuss this and share a few activities in Chapter 7.

By sharing my journey to belonging, I hope to spread the word about the importance of feeling a sense of belonging in order to have a healthy self-concept and more satisfying personal and professional relationships. I weave a bit of theory and scientific evidence to show that we all need to feel a sense of belonging to thrive. I also pose questions at the end of each chapter to support the reader’s journey to belonging. The most important journey we can take.

About the Author

Ilene’s Bio:

Dr. Ilene Winokur has lived in Kuwait since 1984 and is a professional development specialist supporting teachers globally including refugee teachers. Ilene has been active in learning innovation for over 35 years, is an expert in professional development, and passionate about narratives related to belonging. Prior to retiring in 2019, she was a teacher and administrator at the elementary and pre-college levels for 25 years. Her blog, podcast, and book focus on the importance of feeling a sense of belonging.

You can connect with Ilene on

Twitter: @IleneWinokur

Instagram: @ilenewinokur

Facebook: IleneWinokur

Book description:

Reflecting on life is important, but what if it leads to discovering your sense of belonging? Dr. Ilene Winokur discovered a sense of belonging by sharing her story about life in two very different places she calls home: Buffalo, NY, and Yarmouk, Kuwait. Friends and family were curious about how she adjusted to life in two different cultures. Dr. Winokur realized that belonging was the common theme and her journey guided her to make connections between belonging, learning, and improving our well-being.

Journey to Belonging: Pathways to Well-Being is filled with self-reflection and the author’s discovery about different stages of belonging (self, personal, and professional) that can influence how educators approach teaching and learning. Dr. Winokur's research-based explanations about belonging and well-being include why our highest goal is to leave a legacy and a better future for all.


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